Monk: For this Pitmaster Profile, we are branching out of Charlotte and spotlighting a pitmaster in Western North Carolina. Spencer Purcell is the pitmaster/fire tender/”BBQ guy” at Hubba Hubba Smokehouse in Flat Rock, who we recently reviewed. Thanks to Spencer for his time in answering my questions and I hope you enjoy hearing from a new and different voice in North Carolina barbecue.
If you know of a pitmaster who we should feature next, let us know!
How long have you lived in the Flat Rock area and how did you get there?
The Hendersonville/Flat Rock area became my new home in 2017, after living in Chicago for roughly 13 years. For four summers prior to moving here, I worked at a summer camp down the street from Hubba that specialized in giving kids with Autism and/or ADHD an option to enjoy the beautiful western Carolina area. I fell in love with the mountains and vibrant culture of Asheville pretty quickly and made it a mission to make it here.
How did you become a pitmaster?
We are using a live and at-times large fire at Hubba. At least for our sake, if you think you’ve mastered fire or the ten foot brick mason pit (Starla), you are probably about to burn something important. I tend the fire and am known as the “BBQ guy” at our window. I had worked in BBQ in Chicago for a few years while in school but really didn’t fall in love with BBQ until moving here. The owner of Hubba, Starr Teel, convinced me that this is something that I would be good at and now I just try to learn more everyday.
What is your favorite meat to smoke? What type of wood do you prefer?
I’m originally from, and have most of my family in, the very cow-centric state of Wisconsin. Briskets, burgers – anything beef typically – will come first for me on an order. Brisket took a frustrating amount of time to understand, but now is something I enjoy cooking greatly. Red and white oak as a base and hickory to flavor have worked well for us at Hubba.
What are your barbecue influences?
Elliot Moss [of Buxton Hall Barbecue] is one of the most laid-back, creative, unique, can-cook-some-serious-BBQ dudes that I am inspired by. Billy Durney’s style [at Hometown Barbecue] of ethnic fusion into classic BBQ dishes is pretty awesome as well.
The biggest influence on me would have to be the five or six bad ass moms that we have working at Hubba. BBQ is a war of attrition that they put in place day in and day out.
What is your favorite barbecue joint or style?
One of the first meals I had when I moved to the area was a fried chicken sandwich and about 5 bourbon slushies from Buxton Hall. Since then I’ve gone back countless times and really value their kind of whole picture approach. Their burgers are unreal.
What is your earliest memory of barbecue?
While I was growing up in Chicago there wasn’t a ton of great BBQ (much different now) so I rarely had a memorable moment. Maybe 2009 on spring break, my mom took me and a friend to Southern Soul BBQ on St. Simon’s in Georgia and I had a damn near spiritual bite of brisket.
What is the best thing about barbecue in western North Carolina?
BBQ and the food scene are both transforming pretty much in parallel with the new influx of people coming to the area. This Asheville-Hendo-Greenville (SC) corridor is blossoming with new diverse families that are bringing their unique traditions and dishes. These are then meshing with the tradition that Carolina style BBQ is steeped in.
What is a weakness or opportunity of barbecue in western North Carolina?
WNC is at a sort of crossroads that has begun a fusion between the traditional style of Carolina BBQ and other regional specialties. You can go to Noble Smoke and get Texas Style brisket. Elliot Moss does oysters and other oddities that you wouldn’t see on a BBQ menu typically. At Hubba Hubba, one of our most popular items are the burnt ends, which aren’t common to the area at all. Its a very exciting area to cook in right now.
Anything else you’d like everyone to know?
Since Hubba is an outdoor patio/garden of a restaurant, when the temps drop we close up for the season. We will be reopening mid-March 2020. In the mean time we are focusing on opening a new pub and grill down the street from Hubba called Campfire. It will not be a BBQ joint but will have many smoked items on the menu that you can enjoy with a tall draft, inside from the cold. Opening Mid December.
Thanks again to Spencer for his time!